Director: Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kuska
Cast: Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Brian Hull, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Fran Drescher, Brad Abrell, Asher Blinkoff
Screenplay: Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, Genndy Tartakovsky
98 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor including cartoon nudity.
I’ve spent the last week binging everything Hotel Transylvania. Prior to a week ago, I hadn’t seen a single film in the franchise, but when I learned that my first press screening of the year would be Transformania, I immediately began watching these films. I watched all three original films, all three short films, and a few episodes of the television series to get into the right realm to see this fourth, and reportedly final (for now) installment of the franchise. See, I do my research.
Dracula (Brian Hull, Pup Star Rescue Dogs) is preparing to retire and hand off the ownership of Hotel Transylvania to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, Monte Carlo, TV’s Only Murders in the Building), but he fears that her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg, America: The Motion Picture, TV’s Saturday Night Live) will ruin his beloved hotel with his HUMAN alternatives, he inadvertently convinces Johnny to use a Monsterfication Ray to turn himself into a monster. The ray also turns Drac and his buddies into humans as well. Now, they have to fix the Monsterfication Ray and turn everyone back to normal before Johnny’s monster transformation becomes irreversible.
It’s nice to see all of these characters grow and interact with one another. One of the things that I loved while watching these films over the last week was seeing this steadily growing ensemble work with one another for the sake of hijinks. I think my favorite of the group is the third film, so seeing Drac’s relationship with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn, Afternoon Delight, TV’s WandaVision) continue beyond that film was really nice and seeing that she still has memories of her time as a monster slayer helped to bridge the films nicely to its roots. So often, we get characters that turn good in one film and then become perfect little angels like their past didn’t matter, and here, Ericka’s past definitely mattered, but she’s able to use her skills for a more noble purpose. It was also awesome to see Jim Gaffigan (Chappaquiddick, Luca) return as Van Helsing, a character I found to be captivating and funny from the previous film. Here, he’s living in seclusion and has a purpose in the narrative that, again, ties to his franchise roots (though why he never considered using the Monsterfication Ray to just turn monsters back into humans instead of killing them makes me ponder).
The only missing character that I notably missed is Drac’s father, voiced by Mel Brooks. Never a large role in the franchise, he’s always a welcome inclusion, and it would’ve been fun to see him, a former human-killing hateful vampire, turned into a human. I also noticed the lack of Adam Sandler in the role of Dracula (I didn’t miss Kevin James because Frankenstein just never had a lot to do in the series). While Brian Hull does a great Adam-Sandler-as-Dracula impression, I could tell he wasn’t the same Drac, and it was notable here.
Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kuska take over directing duties from Genndy Tartakovsky, who made the first three films (and contributed to the story and script for this installment). Their directing is much more frenetic. There’s a lot going on in the frame here, and some of it is unnecessary. I can call out the opening of the film set at the hotel party. There is so much plot jammed into this beginning, and then there’s a lot of unsuccessful visual gags here as well. It doesn’t completely derail the film, but moments of the film, specifically in the handling of Johnny, gets really annoying. There’s a chase scene at the party where Johnny yells out Mavis’s name perhaps a hundred times in a five-minute sequence, and it becomes really frustrating, and headache-producing, to listen to.
Part of that falls down to the screenplay as well, co-written by Tartakovsky along with Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo. There’s an excellent idea at play here that goes back to the central themes of the first movie (whereas the sequels expanded on other elements of the characters). The concept and story work pretty well, but some of the dialogue is tell-don’t-show or characters saying aloud what’s obviously happening on screen. There’s some humor that’s mined from the central premise, but it’s more hit-and-miss than the other films.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania has had five different release dates since Sony originally placed it in October 2021. The Delta variant launched this film all over the back half of last year before it rested as an Amazon Original in January, and the finished movie is probably the weakest installment of the franchise thus far, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. If you’ve enjoyed the previous three films, then this one should be an enjoyable, though slightly less so, time in front of the television. If you didn’t like the Hotel Transylvania franchise to this point, then this one won’t sway you. I liked it but seeing it in such quick succession with the other films only highlights its flaws more.
-Kyle A. Goethe